Blackfriars’ 70th anniversary: Back to school for old scholar staff

“There is something very special about returning to your old school as a staff member. It speaks volumes of that sense of belonging – of being Blackfriars boys – that is instilled in students and carries through to adulthood.”

In Blackfriars’ 70-year history, it has welcomed back many, many old scholars as staff members. It started way back in 1966, just 13 years after the school opened, when Harry Davis (BPS’59) became the first Blackfriars old scholar to join the staff – as English master.

In mid-2021, history was made when David Ruggiero (BPS’92) was announced as Blackfriars’ 11th Principal – the first time an old scholar had been appointed to lead the school. He came to Blackfriars as an eight-year-old, starting Year 3 in 1983.

Mr Ruggiero said leading the school that he had attended as a student gave him “immeasurable personal joy”.

“This school is the home of my lifelong friendships forged together in the spirit of Blackfriars,” Mr Ruggiero said. “St Thomas Aquinas understood that true friends are the source of the greatest pleasures and, without friends, even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.

“I think we, being old scholars, may have adapted St Thomas Aquinas’s message to something a lot more pedestrian as, ‘Once a Blacks boy, always a Blacks boy’. The truth of who I am, at the core of my being, is a Blackfriars boy.”

Some of the old scholar staff members who are working at Blackfriars in 2023, from left, Michael Tran (BPS’16), George Elmassih (BPS’06), Henry Vo (BPS’09), Ernie Luongo (BPS’82), Mitchell Brealey (BPS’12), Nick Jeffries (BPS’13), David Ruggeiro (BPS’92), Michael Parrella (BPS’08), Garth Starrs (BPS’91) and Patrick Kelly (BPS’90).

In this, our 70th anniversary year, the list of old scholar staff member stretches to almost 20. Alongside Mr Ruggiero are Director of Development Patrick Kelly, as well as Trent Allwood, Mitchell Brealey, Antonio Caiazza, Oliver Carroll, George Elmassih, Nick Jeffries, Corey Leditschke, Ernie Luongo, Ali Mohammadi, John Niedzwiecki, Khoa Nguyen, Michael Parrella, Garth Starrs, Michael Tran and Henry Vo.

Year 5/6 teacher Henry Vo graduated in 2009 and returned to the school in 2015.

“My best memory of my school days is representing Blackfriars in a variety of co-curricular sports, including badminton, football, cricket, rugby and, especially, soccer,” Mr Vo said.

“It was something that I looked forward to every single week. It was easy playing alongside a group of mates who shared common values, beliefs and interests. We still spend time together and see each other on a regular basis. It was an amazing time being a student and I am so thankful for the friendships and the dedicated staff for creating a conducive environment for me to learn and thrive.”

He said coming back to Blackfriars as a staff member was a “blessing”.

“I am so grateful for all the teachers who I had in Year 12 that supported and helped to shape me into the person I am today – Ms Harvey, Mrs Abbott, Mr Dabrowski, Mr Penna, Ms Dent, Mr Meers and Mr Winter. Initially, it was bizarre rubbing shoulders with these wonderful teachers who I had looked up to for so long. I still feel rather strange, even after eight years working at Blackfriars. I will get there!”

Director of Development Patrick Kelly during his time as a student at Blackfriars.

Fellow 2009 graduate Oliver Carroll, who has taught across the Primary and Secondary schools during his time working at Blackfriars, agreed that the relationships with classmates were to be treasured.

“One of the fondest memories I have of my time as a student at Blackfriars is Year 12 retreat at Victor Harbor,” said Mr Carroll, who has been at teacher at Blackfriars since 2018. “I remember the pressures of Year 12 and feeling grateful for the chance to let off some steam with my classmates.”

Class of 2012 alumni Trent Allwood said: “Being an old scholar working here is special to me as it gives me the opportunity to give back to a place that helped shape the person that I am today. Blackfriars was fantastic for my development wholistically.”

For secondary teacher Garth Starrs (BPS’91), it was the memories of some of his own teachers that he rated among his fondest from his time as a student at Blackfriars.

“My favourite memory is of my English teachers, George Rich and Bill Zytnik; they were outstanding,” Mr Starrs said.

“As an English teacher, I wanted to be like those great men. And Father (John) Neill I remember as nothing short of brilliant. Father Neill wasn’t just talking about the four pillars – Prayer, Study, Community and Service – he was talking about what we believed as Dominicans.”

Mr Starrs said while much at the school had changed since the late-80s/early 90s, the fundamentals remained the same.

“Today, there’s been a massive amount of change; I tell the boys how there was no internet throughout my schooling, to now we’re talking about how we manage ChatGPT,” he said. “But the four pillars are still absolutely crucial. As much as there has been that change, the care remains the same.”

Garth Starrs (front row, fourth from left) with his classmates during his final year at Blackfriars.

Ernie Luongo (BPS’82) is perhaps best known as Blackfriars’ Soccer Academy Director. His passion for the sport only grew during his time as a student at Blackfriars.

“My favourite things as a student were playing sport and being part of the soccer teams,” said Ernie, who returned to Blackfriars as a staff member in 2011. “Going through the year levels with a great group of players who became national players – and we’ve had quite a few – and to see them where they are now, it’s just amazing.”

He described the experience of teaching in the school where he had been a student as a “great connection”.

“I just love the culture, the staff, the students; everything, really,” he said.

Nick Jeffries is one of the school’s newest old scholar staff members, starting as the Year 2 teacher this year.

“I loved my time at Blackfriars,” Mr Jeffries said. “I studied to the best of my ability and made some life-long friends. Being able to return to Blackfriars as a teacher means a lot. I can give back to the same community that helped make me the man I am today.”

  • This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of The OPtimist. If you’re an old scholar and would like to receive The OPtimist, please email our Development Office at [email protected] and we’ll add you to the mailing list.


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